Student-Faculty Partnerships in Curricula

There is a growing movement to not only include but also involve students in curricula decisions. Students in higher education have challenged the notion that they are customers receiving a transactional education and instead call for higher levels of participation and agency in their learning (Matthews et al., 2017). Students collaborating with institutions, programs, and faculty to design curricula is a framework known as students as partners, or student-faculty partnerships. At Portland State University, student body President Nya Mbock has called for more student involvement with faculty in the curriculum (Swordfisk, 2021).

Positive outcomes of student-faculty partnership include increased student engagement, motivation, and ownership for learning, a positive shift of power dynamics between faculty and student (toward more equitable power), engagement and empowerment for students who are historically excluded, and increased student confidence and self-determination (Cook-Sather et al., 2014).

With any approach to curricula, the intention of including students can end up harming students. It’s important to set intentions, to be transparent, and to reflect on how power affects the partnership. Without these intentional pieces, partnership work may end up tokenizing students and essentializing the student experience (Cook-Sather et al., 2014; de Bie et al., 2021). As a result, and despite good intentions, partnerships can reinforce the inequitable learning environments that they seek to disrupt. For example, partnership work may focus on an increased sense of belonging for students, which may be problematic when the institution students are invited to feel connected with has a history of erasure and colonization for some student populations (de Bie et al., 2021).

Example Partnership Approaches

Here are three examples of partnership approaches you can include in your own practice:

  • Student-faculty course design. This happens before a course is taught and when you are designing the course. A student or group of students collaborate with the faculty member on the design of a course. This might include a redesigned syllabus or elements such as course outcomes, a course assignment, or an entire course.
  • Students create and choose. This includes students in a course you are teaching. This might include having students choose the weekly discussion topics or create and vote on quiz questions, embedding students’ social bookmarking annotations to shape course content, or having students collaborate to create course content (Cook-Sather et al., 2014).
  • Partnerships in assessment. Invite students to identify grading criteria for an assignment or final essay or invite students to co-assess their own final presentations. Another example is to bring a rubric with past student papers (used with permission) and have current students grade the papers based on that rubric. Have a discussion about the rubric and invite students to offer suggestions on adapting it for their course term.

Getting Started

  1. Begin by reflecting on how you currently involve students in your curriculum.
  2. Create a list of when students get to make decisions within your curriculum. (If this is currently  “never,” consider starting with a negotiated syllabus.)
  3. Acknowledge that this iterative process never really ends.

Examples in Practice

Negotiated Syllabus

Provide a diversity of materials in formats that remain consistent from week to week. Students choose which materials to engage with to learn the concepts outlined for that week. The focus of the negotiated syllabus is to highlight student agency within their learning by creating opportunities for students to choose the way they want to learn a concept.

For example, provide lecture slides, supplementary texts, and external videos covering the information being taught each week. From this collection, students can choose which items are most useful to them and will have reliable access to their preferred materials for each new topic.

Reflection

Reflect on the level at which students make decisions and identify opportunities to increase student involvement: Hold a discussion with students in class to determine course learning outcomes and discuss how predetermined assignments will help the class reach their goals.

Be prepared to make small changes to assignments based on the class discussion. This is expected, as every class will have different students. The discussion may also yield ideas for new or different assignments to help the class meet their co-created learning outcomes.

Alternatively, hold a discussion with students in class to create course assignments based on predetermined course outcomes and how these assignments will help the class reach their goals.

Identity Expression

Integrate the student voice into your course by providing ample room for identity expression and application of the material to students’ own lived experiences — in ways such as including languages spoken beyond English and encouraging cultural and community practices. This engages more parts of the brain and allows for greater communication between them, along with deeper integration of the learned material into long-term memory (Johnson et al., 2006)

Co-created Syllabus

Develop a syllabus, in partnership with students, that reflects your collective values. Co-creating a syllabus is a chance for students to democratically participate in their own learning. It signals that a course is designed to share power and encourage not only student involvement but also engagement and agency.

The syllabus might include co-created community guidelines, flexible deadlines based on the class’s needs for that quarter, or opportunities for students to self-grade. You might also consider including a list of linked resources (where to find cost-considerate course materials, necessary technology, internet access), a land acknowledgement, and an acknowledgment of bias.

References

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felton, P. (2014). Engaging Students As Partners in Learning and Teaching : A Guide for Faculty. John Wiley & Sons. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/lib/psu/detail.action?docID=1650837

De Bie, K., Marquis, E., Cook-Sather, A., & Luqueño, L. P. (2021). Promoting Equity and Justice through Pedagogical Partnership. Stylus. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/lib/PSU/detail.action?docID=6647714

Johnson, S., & Taylor, K. (2006). The Neuroscience of Adult Learning: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Wiley. https://search.library.pdx.edu/permalink/f/p82vj0/CP71182273540001451

Matthews, K. E., Groenendijk, L. J., & Chunduri, P. (2017). We Want to be More Involved: Student Perceptions of Students as Partners Across the Degree Program Curriculum. International Journal for Students As Partners, 1(2). https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v1i2.3063

Swordfisk, K. (2021, September 27). In pursuit of student success: ASPSU president prioritizes student involvement, improving the post-COVID learning environment. PSU News. https://www.pdx.edu/news/pursuit-student-success

Learn More Elsewhere

Website


Equity and Inclusion Practices: An Overview

This guide introduces a few pedagogies you can adopt into your inclusive teaching practice. They can help facilitate connections and conversations leading to inclusive and equitable learning — but this is not an exhaustive list.

Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy

Culturally sustaining pedagogy builds on the work of culturally relevant teaching and culturally responsive pedagogy. It affirms and sustains students’ connections to their culture, language, and community. It focuses on students as active contributors of unique lived experiences essential to learning. It also resists monolingualism and deficit student framing by promoting cultural equality (Paris, 2012).

In Practice

“I Notice, I Wonder” is a useful culturally sustaining practice in many teaching contexts. It’s an introductory brainstorming activity in which students from all backgrounds and abilities can participate.

Further Reading

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) attempts to minimize barriers and create equal opportunities for all students to express what they know. UDL creates multiple paths to learning and understanding that benefit all students, regardless of disability. This framework focuses on adding flexibility, choice, and relevance to three key areas of instruction: expression of knowledge, representation of information, and engagement.

In Practice

Further Reading

Trauma-Informed Pedagogy

Originating in neuroscience, trauma-informed pedagogy acknowledges and attempts to mitigate the trauma’s impact on learning. Trauma can come from sources including but not limited to adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) such as physical or emotional abuse, institutional and systemic oppression, and COVID-19. While trauma affects each individual differently, it’s likely to impact cognitive functions such as memory, emotional regulation, stamina, and focus. Strategies within this framework include a focus on community, relationships, routine, and flexibility.

In Practice

Further Reading

Community-Based Learning Pedagogy

What is the role of a university in a community? How might curricula contribute to students’ civic identity? How does a course honor the life experience students bring to the classroom? Community-based learning (CBL) pedagogies attempt to address these and other foundational questions concerning the intentional interplay between movements for justice, academic knowledge, and the spaces we share.

In Practice

Further Reading

Contemplative Pedagogy

Contemplative pedagogy encourages deep learning through focused attention, reflection, and mindfulness practice. It engages students in an introspective, first-person way of knowing the world around them through an embodied educational experience, which allows students to see themselves in their courses. “Inviting the contemplative simply includes the natural human capacity for knowing through silence, looking inward, pondering deeply, beholding, witnessing the contents of our consciousness…. These approaches cultivate an inner technology of knowing….” (Hart, 2004, pp. 29–30).

Many common classroom practices — such as close reading, writing, and reflection — can draw from contemplative practices to help students focus deeply, retain new information, and integrate learning into meaningful situations.

In Practice

Further Reading

Student Voice

Student voice “aims to signal not only the literal sound of students’ words as they inform educational planning, research, and reform, but also the collective contribution of diverse students’ presence, participation and power in those processes” (Bovill et al., 2011, pp. 2–3). Notably, student voice work is shared decision-making between students and faculty that involves value, agency, and action for students and aims to be transformative for both students and faculty.

In Practice

Further Reading

Anti-Racist Pedagogy

Anti-racist pedagogy is a “paradigm located within critical theory utilized to explain and counteract the persistence and impact of racism using praxis as its focus to promote social justice for the creation of a democratic society in every respect” (Blakeney, 2005, p. 119). Further, anti-racist pedagogy reveals the structural inequalities within U.S. society while fostering students’ critical analysis skills as well as their critical self-reflection (Kishimoto, 2018). Per Kishimoto, incorporating anti-racist pedagogy at the classroom level begins with examining one’s own pedagogy and curriculum to implement change. This could involve understanding how inequitable education structures impact students differently, reevaluating assumptions we may make about students’ backgrounds, inviting a colleague to review syllabi or other course materials to identify where bias might impact curriculum and organization, meaningfully incorporating the work and voices of minoritized scholars, and incorporating high impact learning practices that create the foundations for collective exploration of historical, social, and cultural biases in the field of study.

In Practice

Further Reading

References

Blakeney, A. M. (2005). Antiracist pedagogy: Definition, theory, and professional development. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 2(1), 119–132. https://doi.org/10.1080/15505170.2005.10411532

Bovill, C., Cook‐Sather, A. & Felten, P. (2011). Students as co‐creators of teaching approaches, course design, and curricula: implications for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 16(2), 133–145. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2011.568690

Hart, T. (2004). Opening the contemplative mind in the classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, 2(28), 28–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541344603259311

Kishimoto, K. (2018) Anti-racist pedagogy: from faculty’s self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 21(4), 540–554. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2016.1248824

Paris, D. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), 93–97. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X12441244


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM

What are diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how are they related to higher education?

You have probably encountered these terms a lot over the past few years. Although they are popular, their application varies depending on the situation. Overall, the primary goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion work are to:

  • Promote the value of a wide variety of identities, abilities, value systems, and life experiences.
  • Recognize that these experiences have not been valued equally and make changes to promote justice and healing.
  • Create long-term, sustainable changes that allow everyone to fully access opportunities for success.

By being mindful of common hurdles such as textbook cost, different styles of learning, and diverse life experiences, you can find out what students need for success in class. This article offers some resources to promote a collaborative, equitable learning environment where students and instructors alike are fully engaged and feel successful.

Diversity and Inclusion in STEM Programs

Researchers have tried to understand why some students are more successful in STEM classes than others. Some evidence suggests ZIP codes play an important role. Knowledgeable teachers and healthy physical environments for development tend to link together in resource-rich areas. Some of these areas are rural and some more urban. The most common factors are the quality of available education and social determinants of health (Tate, 2008).

These resource-rich areas have benefitted from STEM leaders and innovators, so the emphasis on strong STEM education makes sense. However, this also means early STEM success has more to do with a student’s environment than personal interest or ability. Disparities that begin in K-12 education inform the opportunities available to students in higher education, both in college access and student engagement in classes. And as some ZIP codes progress while others stagnate, students with similar life experiences will continue to reinforce assumptions about who is “good” at STEM and who is not (Tate, 2008).

Socio-economic factors — such as physical environment, family system environment, family income and occupation, and teacher experience at the K-12 level — impact not only who has access to higher education, but also the future of STEM fields (Phillips, 2019). “…[W]e note that STEM is the only field where Black and Latina/o youth are significantly more likely than their White peers to switch and earn a degree in another field…. In summary, we find evidence of white privilege in STEM degree attainment that is not mirrored in other major fields. (Riegle-Crumb et al., 2019).” Similarly, women who graduate from STEM programs are less likely to continue into STEM careers than men. Trans and genderqueer students are heavily under-represented. This means an even more homogenous group than the STEM student body is designing future technology and changing the world for everyone else.

An important approach to innovative STEM classrooms is to include and support students from varied backgrounds and lived experiences. Inclusive classrooms help everyone stay engaged and passionate, pursuing their interests in the field.

Anti-racist and inclusive practices, in the classroom and in STEM teaching, can be grounded both in pedagogy and in the instructor’s personal experience. Here are some reflective practices along with some resources available at PSU.

Incorporating Inclusive and Anti-Racist Practices into a STEM Course

Anti-Racist Reflection, Research, and Action as an Act of Self and Community Care

“Teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students (hooks, 1994, p. 15).”

Teachers can only go as far in the classroom as they have in their own growth and cultivation of well-being. Creating equitable, diverse, and inclusive classrooms is not one-size-fits-all. Arguably, it’s most effective when instructors have grounded their approach in critical reflection and continued learning. bell hooks describes emphasizing the community of the classroom and instructors leading with vulnerability to create an environment where students are empowered, curious, and engaged in learning.

The more instructors pay attention to their own well-being, the more vulnerability is possible in the classroom. Here are resources for fostering an inclusive, responsive classroom environment that invites instructors to care for themselves and learn about anti-racism practices.

Personal Reflection

Our identities and life experiences inform the way we teach and learn; it can be easy to accidentally alienate students who have different life experiences. Approaching students when maintaining a growth mindset and reflective teaching practice can help instructors engage in the classroom as learners themselves.

Researching Anti-Racist Practices

Action

Inconsistencies in Inclusion Practices

You might find diversity, equity, and inclusion discussed in ways that conflict with each other. This can be frustrating when you want to engage in this work effectively but without causing harm. When looking at DEI efforts abstractly — without the context of your own students in mind — choosing techniques may seem impossible. It can help to ask, “What does my learning community need to fully engage?”

You might reflect on some of these questions as you think about how to best support your learning community:

  • What are the traditional research or learning methods in your field? Do these methods create barriers based on race, gender, class, age, or ability?
  • What are some guidelines for class engagement meaningful to you as an instructor? How can you create space for others with different values to express themselves?
  • Are there elements of your job that limit or broaden your ability to create an inclusive classroom?

Engaged Pedagogy in the Classroom

Resources and Tips for Building an Inclusive Course

Campus resource centers provide sample syllabus language and additional resources:

Adding Diversity to Your Syllabus

Reach out to STEM subject librarians for assistance finding resources from diverse authors and sources to supplement your syllabus.

Some external lists to consider:

Additional Resources for Structuring Courses and Incorporating Student Feedback

Surveys can be useful for gauging student interests, needs, and familiarity with the course material both before and throughout the term.

Consider scheduling mid-quarter student feedback (a teaching consultation) through OAI, to collect qualitative student feedback anonymously.

Universal Design for Learning emphasizes creating more opportunities for students to learn course material by offering multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

Consider assignments that can both help you get more inclusive material and engage student interests. Some ideas:

  • Ask students to find information about scientists of color or how the field has impacted groups who have been under-invested in.
  • Ask students to write their own quiz or learning goals and discuss as a class how you can support each other to meet the objectives.
  • Ask students to update the curriculum, or build their own curriculum based on what they learned in the course and their lived experiences. (Consider a negotiated syllabus.)

Beyond the Classroom: Structural Changes

You might feel limited by what you can do in the classroom, knowing the structural inequalities that contribute to a lack of diversity. Here are some ideas for thinking about equity, diversity, and inclusion outside of a class environment.

Promote National and Local Community Initiatives

Movements making historically and systemically marginalized STEM professionals more visible are growing. Promoting these initiatives can be a great way to support marginalized students and expand everyone’s thinking.

Build a Network of Support with Students and Faculty

Students are often looking to instructors for guidance on how to create change. You may get questions about diversity already. Collaboration can be powerful and can help identify what is needed to prevent exclusion based on gender, race, class, ability, and other identities. Here are some suggestions for supporting this collaboration:

  • Complete OAI’s Certificate of Innovation in College Teaching. This program helps current and future instructors think about accessibility, develop their own teaching pedagogy, and build a support network with other educators.
  • Check out other professional development opportunities offered at OAI.
  • Build a network of former students who want to speak to your class and mentor students in the course.
  • If you have access to a Teaching Assistant (TA), promote hiring TAs who have different experiences than instructors, and work with your TA to build the syllabus.
  • Meet with other instructors in your department to share resources and discuss opportunities to make the program more equitable and inclusive.

References

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge. https://www-taylorfrancis-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/books/mono/10.4324/9780203700280/teaching-transgress-bell-hooks

Phillips, A. (2019). The Quest for Diversity in Higher Education. Pepperdine Policy Review, 11, Article 4. https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/ppr/vol11/iss1/4

Riegle-Crumb, C, King, B., & Irizarry, Y. (2019). Does STEM Stand Out? Examining Racial/Ethnic Gaps in Persistence Across Postsecondary Fields. Educational Researcher, 48(3), 133–144. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/10.3102/0013189X19831006

Tate, W. F. (2008). “Geography of Opportunity”: Poverty, Place, and Educational Outcomes. Educational Researcher, 37(7), 397–411. https://www-proquest-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/docview/216911261


Introduction to Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a flexible pedagogical framework to minimize barriers and increase accessibility for the fullest range of students possible. A ramp allows the full range of people to access a building while a stairway allows only some. In the same way, UDL asks us to trade “one size fits all” thinking to imagine curriculum designs that open the doors to any student. UDL focuses on increasing flexibility, choice, and relevance within three main components of curriculum design and implementation:

  • Engagement: how students interact with and are motivated by the instructor, content, and their peers
  • Representation: how information or learning experiences are taught and presented
  • Expression: how students demonstrate their knowledge

While standard accessibility practices such as structuring text for screen readers and captioning videos are part of UDL (specifically increasing the range of how content is represented), these practices do not encompass all of UDL. Applying a holistic UDL lens to your classroom means deepened comprehension, accurate assessment of student knowledge, and a truly inclusive learning environment that welcomes physical, cognitive, and cultural diversity.

A Lens, Not a Checklist

So how can we apply UDL to course design? Here are a few ideas to get you started, but the possibilities are truly infinite. UDL is a lens or mindset that prioritizes increased flexibility, choice, and relevance; it should be continually adapted for your particular course(s) and students.

Engagement


What it is:

How students interact with and are motivated by the instructor, peers, and content


Strategy to try:

Use a variety of response options during synchronous and asynchronous sessions.


Examples:

  • Verbal responses during discussion
  • Written responses in chat
  • Artistic responses (doodles, flowcharts, metaphors, etc.)
  • Small group breakout rooms
  • Paired sharing
  • Whole group call and response
  • Self-rating levels of understanding in a poll
  • Written responses in online discussion forum
  • Video responses in online discussion forum (e.g. FlipGrid)


Representation


What it is:

How information or learning experiences are taught and presented


Strategy to try:

Allow students to choose when and how they receive content.


Examples:

  • Optional small-group Zoom sessions
  • Readings from various source types (research articles, primary sources, fictional or artistic interpretations, etc.)
  • Videos (documentaries, news broadcasts, etc.)
  • Audio (podcasts, radio, etc.)
  • Choose Your Own (students find their own related resource and share with the class)


Expression


What it is:

How students demonstrate their knowledge


Strategy to try:

Use key learning objectives as a guide to offer options for how students can show their learning.


Examples:

Learning Objectives:
  • Construct a thesis statement.
  • Support with at least three pieces of evidence.
  • Analyze connections between evidence.

Assessment Menu:
  • Write a traditional research paper.
  • Present with slides.
  • Build a website.
  • Interview experts in a podcast.